An arsonist struck the Fallen Heroes Memorial Plaza in Coeur d’Alene late Tuesday or early Wednesday, burning one of two basalt columns erected to represent the World Trade Center on the eve of a ceremony to remember those who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We find it pretty reprehensible the day before 9/11,” said Sgt. Christie Wood, Coeur d’Alene Police Department spokeswoman.
Fires were also set in three nearby Cherry Hill Park restrooms.
The memorial will take place this morning despite the vandalism, said Coeur d’Alene Fire Department Deputy Chief Glenn Lauper.
Following the advice of Tumble Stone, the Hayden company that created the pieces, the Fire Department was able to clean the column, Lauper said. “We power-washed it, and it looks spectacular. No permanent damage. We are ready to take on the world again.”
The two brown-and-gray columns had been covered in heavy black fabric Tuesday night, with an unveiling set for this morning. Someone lighted the cover on one of the columns, melting the fabric onto the rock and burning it.
Of the three restroom fires, two did not take off, but the men’s room on the south side of the park was filled with soot.
Police and fire inspectors said they’re not certain the memorial was targeted; the damage could have been caused by vandals out to see what they could burn. Investigators collected evidence from the scene but said they had no solid leads.
When it’s complete next summer, the memorial plaza will be a miniature replica of the World Trade Center, designed to teach children about the events of Sept. 11. Signs will explain what happened in each spot, such as when and where each building fell.
“It will be an interactive learning tool,” said Bobby Gonder, an inspector for the Fire Department. “Plus the park will be a place to sit and reflect.”
Next to the two columns stands a shorter one embedded with a T-shaped piece of metal sent to the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department by the New York Fire Department. Engraved below the metal: “This T-beam artifact is from the World Trade Center located in New York City.”
A ceremony will begin at 8:25 a.m. today to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and will include moments of silence to commemorate when two airliners smashed into the World Trade Center towers.
The public also will see five 12-foot-high sculptures of public safety officers standing near the basalt columns, with one space left empty to represent fallen comrades. A semicircle of Washington cherry trees stands next to those statues. Sponsorship for the park comes from the Coeur d’Alene Rotary Club and Coeur d’Alene Parks Foundation, with the city’s Police and Fire departments organizing additional fundraising.
On Wednesday morning, Joy Shepston, of Coeur d’Alene, brought her grandchildren to the park to play. As she looked at the burned basalt column she said, “Dirty like that, it looks like it’s had heartaches.”
“That’s what I thought,” Gonder said. “It looks like it’s been crying. We’re still cut open from this. We still have heartaches.”
A Spokane Valley Fire Department captain visiting the park Wednesday with his wife and grandson said he doubted the vandalism was directed at the memorial.
“It seems more egregious because of what it is, but you know as well as I know, it was some kid with a lighter,” said Mark Normington, who lives up the street from the park. The arson was thoughtless, he said, but: “I doubt they were thinking, ‘Hey, let’s go deface the 9/11 memorial.’ They just went, ‘Hey, I wonder if this will burn.’ ”